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Environmental Literacy: FAQs & Resources (Part 1)

By Gwyneth Manser, Rubicon International

With Earth Day coming up, it’s a good time to reflect on the role of environmental education in today’s classroom. What exactly is environmental literacy, and what are some resources you can use to incorporate environmental education into your classroom? Let’s find out!  Interested in more? Check out part two of our two part environmental literacy series HERE!

What exactly is Environmental Literacy?

The National Environmental Education Foundation’s Environmental Literacy Report defines an environmentally literate person as someone who “… makes informed decisions concerning the environment; is willing to act on these decisions to improve the well-being of other individuals, societies, and the global environment; and participates in civic life” (page 11). In short, an environmentally literate student has a basic understanding of environmental issues and principles, and is able to leverage that knowledge to deal with the myriad social and environmental issues of today’s globalized world.

How and Why is Environmental Literacy Being Incorporated into the Classroom?

Environmental education is gaining popularity in classrooms across the country, and environmental literacy standards and “strands” are increasingly becoming a focus of state Departments of Education; for example, Oregon drafted an environmental literacy plan in 2013, and New Hampshire drafted a plan in 2012. Additionally, many states, including California and D.C., are adopting plans to better integrate environmental literacy into the classroom.

These plans are being drafted at a time when our understanding of the environment is at an all-time low. According to a 2004 report:

What exactly is a strand? To paraphrase the University of the District of Columbia, strands are curricula “geared toward addressing and achieving bundles of theme-driven learning outcomes” that cut across disciplines and encourage interdisciplinary learning.

  • Only 32% of Americans have a basic understanding of environmental topics and issues,
  • Just 12% of adults can pass a basic quiz on energy topic awareness.

Additionally, a recent Gallup Poll indicates that concerns over water and air pollution are at historic lows. With pressing national and international issues such as the Flint water crisis and global climate change, it is especially important to cultivate an understanding of environmental issues in today’s classroom.

Environmental Education Resources for Educators

An understanding of the environment is critical to developing student’s understanding of themselves and their environment. Even if your state doesn’t have environmental literacy standards or strands, educators can still take the time to reflect on ways to incorporate environmental education in the classroom.

Below, check out a handful of resources that will help you promote environmental literacy in your classroom:

National Geographic Lessons

Looking for classroom activity ideas across the K-12 subject and grade level spectrum? Look no further than National Geographic’s Teaching Resources! National Geographic offers a wide variety of free activities and lessons for classroom use, many of which contain an outdoor component. From history to science, there’s something for everyone.

Citizen Science

Citizen science is a great way to engage students in outdoor education, both within the classroom and at home. What is citizen science? Citizen science allows professional scientists to “crowd source” their data by having non-professional amateur scientists collect data. It’s a great way to show students that anyone can be a scientist! Search the web for local projects, and check out these exciting examples of citizen science in action: the Portland Urban Coyote Project,  the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome Project, and Project FeederWatch.

North American Association for Environmental Education Resources

The North American Association for Environmental Education has a wide variety of innovative classroom resources for teachers looking to incorporate outdoor education and environmental literacy into their classrooms. Check them out HERE! Some favorites include: resources for urban environmental education, and an interactive drinking water safety map that can help teach students about watersheds, pollution, and environmental inequality.

Education Outside Lesson Pathway

The Education Outside Lesson Pathway, created by  a branch of AmeriCorps called Education Outside, provides a “curriculum framework that allows educators to plan a comprehensive and sequenced outdoor education program by selecting lessons that are nested into a larger, coherent structure”. Resources include lesson plans, worksheets, and fun activity ideas.

From schools gardens to climate change, we want to hear about what YOU are doing! Shoot us an email at pd@rubicon.com and share your story.

This is part one in a two part series on environmental education. Interested in exploring how another school has used Atlas to support their environmental literacy program? Click HERE!

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